My old pal Janette Beckman just opened her exhibit Rebel Cultures: Punks, Rap and Gangs last week at HVW8 in LA. (I know I use “my old pal” a lot. If I know someone for 20+ years and we are still friends, I feel I can legally use that phrase.) Before we met, in the summer of ’82, Janette Beckman was introduced to members of the East LA gang El Hoyo Maravilla and she shot portraits of them like she did with the Brit punks and the NYC hip-hop scene. This show presents her photos of these disparate tribes bound by a commonality: they’re all rebels. Janette tells it like this:
“I was spending the summer in LA with a friend who managed a punk band…for me that meant going out to clubs at night to take photos, neon signs, palm trees, 1950′s bars and cars, Venice beach and much more. One day I met a writer who was working on a story about the East LA gang scene. I asked him to introduce me to the El Hoyo Maravilla gang. We drove out one hot summer day to a large dusty park in East LA to meet some members of the HM gang. I had been documenting the London punk scene since 1976 and brought with me a box of 8”X10” prints of the British skinheads, punks, ska and rockabilly kids to show them. I explained that these were the ‘gangs’ in the UK and they agreed to let me take portraits of them to show people in London. I spent that summer photographing the gang with my Hasselblad camera, driving back and forth from Hollywood to East LA in my Rent-A-Wreck V8 Ford LTD. The East LA area was poor, hot and arid, and there was the constant sound of LAPD helicopters buzzing overhead. The gang members introduced me to their families, showed me the barrio and tried to explain how it was living ‘la vida loca’. I was the first British person they had ever met and we were curious about each other.”
In 2011, Dashwood Books published that collection of Janette’s photos of the HM gang and one of girls Janette had photographed contacted her after seeing the book. Nearly 30 years after that picture was taken, Janette met the girls again to see what their lives were like now.
“We met in Boyle Heights at their sister Arlene’s house and they took me to the Home Girl Café for lunch. The three women had amazing tales to tell of their lives. They had lost husbands to gang violence. But these three amazing women had survived and thrived, they were mothers, career women and still the best of friends. They told me that most of the Hoyo Maravilla guys that I had photographed back in the day were either in jail or had passed away. We sat in the cafe and told stories. They tried to date the exact year I had met them: ‘Was the car we were standing in front of gold or blue?’ they asked, because one of their friends had been shot in the car and it had to be repainted after that because of the blood stains – this was how they would date the photos.”
This exhibition features photos of the HM gang back in the day and the Rivera Bad Girls today, but also various iconic photographs documenting the formative years of the punk and hip-hop scenes including Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer, Debbie Harry, Slick Rick, Keith Haring, and Run DMC to name a few. They all gave their best to her because, as they say, Janette’s the real deal. Rebel Cultures: Punks, Rap and Gangs runs through May 18th, 2014 at HVW8 in Los Angeles.